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Remley’s harness shop an early, active business

Robert Spaun contributed this photo post card, featuring the interior of J.W. Remley’s Store, 221 N. Main, Hannibal, Mo., in 1911. To the left of the stairway, you can see an old stove. Harnesses are visible at the top of the stairs. On the first floor, to the left of the stairs, you can see a display of horse whips. The stairway in this building has been moved from the center of the store, to the wall at right. The building is now owned by MWCH Properties, LLC, and houses Bits & Pieces, Mark W. and Cynthia S. Hannold.


The Quincy Daily Herald of Jan. 19, 1916, carried a notice of the 10th annual meeting of the Tri-State Master Harness Makers Association, which was under way at the Hotel Quincy. J.W. Remley, who operated a harness shop at 221 N. Main St., Hannibal, served as president of the association, and gave the opening address.

On the same page the newspaper was a notice titled: “Motor Funeral Thursday Morning.” Joseph J. Freiburg, Quincy funeral director, was using his new automobile hearse for the first time, for the funeral and burial of the late Theodore Siebers. The newspaper noted that this was the first time an automobile hearse was to be used in Quincy, replacing the standard horse-drawn hearse.

Might J.W. Remley be witnessing the beginning of the end for his Hannibal harness business?

Not a chance.

Gasoline engines

As early as eight years prior, Remley had turned his attention to the gasoline engine and how it could be incorporated into easing the workload on the horse-dependent farm industry.

An article from the Hannibal Courier-Post, reprinted in the Edina Sentinel on July 2, 1908, told of a gasoline engine binder contrived by J.W. Remley. By attaching a gasoline engine to an ordinary binder, it allowed farmers to harvest their grain during wet conditions.

The machine was built at the S.F. Roderick and Son blacksmith shop, 416 N. Main, in Hannibal.

The engine supplied the power to cut and bind the grain, while the horses simply pulled the binder through the field.

The invention was devised to help farmers in the Sny bottoms, where high water and many hard rains produced “such soft fields that horses can hardly get through them. The ground has become so softened by seepage from the river and the downpours of rain that horses mire down in the fields if not kept moving.”

J.W. Remley (he was referred to in the article as ‘the harness man’) and his invention saved the day.

Early days

In 1880, John Wilber Remley, at the age of 17, was working as a harness maker in Kent County, Del. He learned the trade from his father, John William Remley (1825-1908) who until early in 1880 had been a tanner and leather merchant in Pennsylvania.

The large family of John William and Sarah Babcock (1883-1913) Remley had recently moved from New Lebanon, Mercer County, Pennsylvania to Delaware, where the elder John Remley took up farming for a profession.

Four years later, in 1884, John Wilbur Remley moved west, and established himself as a harness maker at Hannibal, Mo., at first working for Thomas C. Moore.

Two years later, in 1886, John W. Remley was married to Arronetta Roland, daughter of James and Bettie Ford Roland of Ralls County, Mo. The two would spend the remainder of their lives in Hannibal, raising six daughters, their later years in a frame house located at the junction of where Rock Street meets Paris Avenue.

Business locations

The Hannibal city directory of 1895 notes that J.W. Remley had a harness and saddle shop at 205 Broadway.

In 1897, Remley was partnered with H. Edwin Roach in the J.W. Remley and Co., harness business, located at 220 N. Main. He later operated a business at that location alone.

Across the street, at 221 N. Main, was a business building owned by Robert Dashill Brewington, who, along with P.H. Holme, operated a saddlery, harness and leather shop on the west side of North Main Street, between Bird and Center, as early as 1859. Esley Hamilton, in doing research during the 1980s for the National Registry of Historic Places, found that the building at 221 N. Main (the same building standing today, and now owned by MWCH Properties, LLC) was constructed circa 1858 by Mr. Brewington.

After Mr. Brewington’s death in 1900, I.T. Lake operated a harness shop at 221 N. Main circa 1907-1909. By 1911, Remley was established at that location. He would continue in business at 221 N. Main St., until his death in 1941.

Over time, the Remley store transitioned into a farm supply store.

In March 1929, J.W. Remley was a dealer for McCormick-Deering and Farmall tractors. McCormick-Deering was a trademark name for tractors produced by the International Harvester Company.

In March 1931, J.W. Remley delivered a new Farmall tractor to James H. Tapley, Flint Hill, Ralls County, Mo.

On March 5, 1937, Remley advertised in the Ralls County Record, noting that the first story of his building was filled with farm machinery.

“Most every machine that the International Company makes may be found here. There are hundreds of small compartments to be found here, where may be found any part of any of the International machines.

“In the second story (of the building) will be found the harness and repair department. In this room will be found harness, the best that can be made, collars, lines, bridles - in fact, any part of harness that is used. There is not a shoddy piece of work in his line. He (Remley) has a first class workman on the job every day, and no matter when you come he is there to serve you in any repair work that you may want. He also makes any new part that you may need.”


In 1934, Mr. Remley was member of the “Ozark Serenaders” of Hannibal. The group performed in April 1934, at closing exercises for the Little Union school near Palmyra.

Members of the musical group were Dorse Rost, Walter Rose, William Sullivan, Emery Shields, Frank Tower, Burley Cane, Harold Dietrick, Bud Hitherto, J.W. Remley, Frederick Indorf, Clarence Carson, Willard Rupp, Aranetta Whitaker, Pauline Salter, Carrie Mae Bonebrake and Mildred Parks. J.W. Remley, the senior member of the group, sang a song of his own composition.


Mrs. Remley, 61, died Nov. 8, 1927, while she was attending a concert at the First Methodist Church at Hannibal. Cause of death was heart disease.

J.W. Remley died at 7 a.m. Jan. 30, 1941, at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. He was 78.

As described in his obituary, published Jan. 30, 1941, in The Excelsior, Lancaster, Mo., newspaper, Mr. Remley's “friendly nature was one of his greatest characteristics and he maintained his disposition both in his business and social contacts. He was well liked in business circles and he conducted his store in an upright and honorable manner. Mr. Remley was honored and respected by a large number of friends in this community.”

Mr. Remley was survived by six daughters:

Mrs. W.P. (Anna Mae) Hulen, Ripon, Wis.;

Mrs. Dan (Irene) Whitaker Wrightsman, Kokomo, Ind.;

Mrs. Walter C. (Lillian) Minor, Hannibal;

Mrs. T.E. Hayes, Hannibal;

Mrs. Marvin (Wilma) Duncan, Downers Grove, Ill.; and

Mrs. Richard Owens, Greenup, Ill.

Disposition of stock

Henry G. Minor was associated with the store for 3 1/2 years prior to Remley’s death in 1941. He subsequently went to work servicing IH equipment at a shop located at 1622 Market.

John W. Abbott, owner of Farmer’s Supply, 210 Center St., purchased Remley’s remaining harness stock.

Note: Hannibal Free Public Library is the recipient of three volumes of the Journals & Business Records of R. D. Brewington, a 19th-century businessman in Hannibal, Missouri. He was a tanner and merchant, moving to Hannibal in the 1850’s. The physical volumes were donated by Robert J. Coontz, Jr., Mr. Brewington’s descendent. They are accessible via the library’s web site.

James W. Remley, long-time Hannibal harness maker. Photo posted on, and reprinted with permission from Ancestry user, VestRemley.

Robert Spaun contributed this photo, likely taken during the late 1920s, of three buildings on the west side of North Main Street, between Center and Bird. The three buildings in a row, from left, are 219, 221 and 223 North Main. when this photo was taken, the building in the middle was Remley’s Harness Shop, 221 N. Main. All three buildings remain standing and in use today.

The backside of the 1911 post card, contributed by Robert Spaun. Mr. Remley invites people to just stop by for a visit.

An advertisement from the 1895 Hannibal city directory, featuring J.W. Remley’s Harness and Saddlery shop, when it was located at 205 Broadway. Directory access via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

J.W. Remley advertisement from 1897, when his store was located at 220 N. Main, on the east side of North Main Street. The advertisement was found in the 1897 Hannibal city directory. Directory access via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

J.W. Remley advertisement for tractors, published in the Ralls County Record, March 1, 1929.

Robert Spaun contributed this photo of the exterior of 221 N. Main St., Hannibal, Mo., taken on Nov. 6, 2023.

The interior of 221 N. Main Street, November 6, 2023. Note the staircase has been moved to the north wall of the building. A quilt hangs in the middle of the store, roughly where the old staircase was located. Photo by Robert Spaun.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ and the newest book, “Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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